By Alexander Marrow
MOSCOW (Reuters) -Russia's benchmark MOEX stock index surged to its highest in more than three months on Thursday, led by a sharp rise in oil major Lukoil, while the rouble strengthened past 60 against the euro and edged higher versus the dollar.
The rouble-based MOEX Russian index was 1.8% higher at 2.440.6 points by 1521 GMT, reaching its strongest mark since May 20, with Lukoil shares leading the way, up 9.9%.
The stock market got a boost this week from gas giant Gazprom's board recommending paying 51.03 roubles ($0.8484) per ordinary share in dividends on the first half of 2022. Its shares, which leapt around 25% on Wednesday, were down 2.4%.
"Gazprom's dividend payout could become a trigger for growth of the Russian stock market," said Dmitry Skryabin, a portfolio manager at Alfa Capital. "The example of Gazprom may encourage dividend payments by other companies that have not paid out, but have the financial capacity to do so."
Promsvyazbank analysts singled out Lukoil as an example of a company that may return to paying dividends.
The dollar-denominated RTS index, which had surged to a near two-month high in the previous session, was up 1.8% at 1,280.6 points, its strongest point since July 4.
The rouble was firming towards 60 against the dollar and surpassed that threshold to the euro. It was 0.3% stronger against the dollar at 60.05 and had gained 1.1% to trade at 59.81 versus the euro.
The rouble spent most of August near 60 per dollar. Volatility has subsided since it hit a record low of 121.53 per dollar in Moscow trade in March, soon after Russia sent tens of thousands of troops into Ukraine. It then rallied to its strongest in seven years of 50.01 per dollar in June.
So far this year, the rouble has been the world's best-performing currency https://emea1.apps.cp.thomsonreuters.com/Apps/NewsServices/mediaProxy?apiKey=6d416f26-7b24-4f31-beb6-1b5aa0f3fafb&url=http%3A%2F%2Ffingfx.thomsonreuters.com%2Fgfx%2Frngs%2FGLOBAL-CURRENCIES-PERFORMANCE%2F0100301V041%2Findex.html, buoyed by emergency capital controls rolled out by the central bank in a bid to halt a mass sell-off. This helped to avoid economic meltdown that many had predicted.
Moscow Exchange on Thursday said it would relaunch the evening session on its stock market, running until 2050 GMT and morning trading on the currency market, starting at 0350 GMT, from Sept. 12.
The country's largest bourse is seeking to gradually return some sense of normalcy to Russian financial markets after severe disruptions in February and March as Western sanctions over Russia's actions in Ukraine began to bite.
($1 = 60.1500 roubles)
(Reporting by Alexander Marrow; Editing by Christopher Cushing and Bernadette Baum)